San Francisco USO Provides Military Travelers Welcome Respite
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SAN FRANCISCO, April 14, 2008 – As the sun began setting over the city
here April 11, retired Air Force Col. Ray Slifka was on duty at the San
Francisco International Airport United Service Organizations lounge,
providing hospitality and assistance to travel-weary military travelers
and their families transiting through the airport. |
Slifka, retired from nearby Travis Air Force Base, Calif., serves as
the public face of the USO, an organization that’s been serving
servicemembers and their families around the world since it was
established in 1941.
Seaman Melissa Marrs makes herself comfortable at the United Service
Organizations lounge at San Francisco International Airport while
awaiting a flight to San Diego as she makes a
permanent-change-of-station move from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan.
Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
USO has had a presence at San Francisco International Airport since
1966, when the USO served troops deploying to and from Southeast Asia.
It’s continued 24/7 operations ever since, serving more than 2 million
servicemembers, retirees and their families.
On this quiet
Saturday evening, Slifka manned the front desk, greeting travelers
trickling into the facility and pointing to the coffee pot and cookies
that awaited them. Activity would likely pick up in a few hours, he
said, when late-evening flights were likely to bring visitors looking
for help with travel problems or left stranded by missed or cancelled
As people arrived at the facility, along the Terminal
1 mezzanine, Slifka encouraged them to take advantage of the facilities
offered: computers with e-mail access, a big-screen television, video
games, books and magazines, lounge chairs to stretch out on, and a
nursery for children with games, toys and coloring books. The USO
lounge also offers limited overnight facilities, a stowage area for
travelers to stash their luggage, and travel tips for those wishing to
explore the San Francisco Bay area while awaiting a flight.
Seaman Melissa Marrs said she’s been to USO facilities in Seattle and
Dallas, and popped in to the San Francisco facility to take advantage
of its services while awaiting her follow-on flight to San Diego.
Marrs, who arrived early the previous day from Naval Air Facility
Atsugi, in Japan, passed the hours before her 10 p.m. flight curled up
in front of the TV with a hot cup a soup.
“They offer us a
place to relax, and they always have treats,” Marrs said of the USO
lounges she has visited. “And the people working there always have a
smile on their face. At every one I’ve been to, they’ve been hospitable
Diane Otte, a military wife passing through
San Francisco en route to Atlanta, where her husband is stationed at
Fort McPherson, Ga., joined Marrs in the USO lounge.
like home here,” said Otte as she plopped down with her book, away from
the blare of airport announcements and the hustle-bustle of airport
passengers. “They have magazines and food and friendly people at the
desk. It feels safe here and relaxing here.”
Otte said she’s
been so impressed with the USOs she has visited that she’s considering
working as a volunteer at the facility at Atlanta’s Hartsfield
International Airport. “It seems like a good thing to do,” she said.
“It’s providing a really important service.”
the heart of USO operations, with about 40 serving at the San Francisco
facility alone. They typically work a day a week, collectively chalking
up more than 7,500 volunteer hours since 2001.
work,” Slifka, one of just a few paid staffers at the facility, said.
“It’s nice to be able to help the military after being in the military
myself. The people who come in here are always appreciative and always
grateful that we’re here.”
|Military Connection's Comments:
The United States Service Organization is more than an entertainment and recreation organization. The USO centers still serve as a “home away from home”. They have created lounges at over one hundred airports to greet incoming and outgoing servicemembers; as well as, modernizing their facilities to include internet service and they offer phone cards. Volunteers man the lounges and do their best to make traveling soldiers feel at home while waiting for their flights. Retired Air Force Colonel Ray Slifka is a volunteer at the San Francisco International Airport. Many veterans and former WW II and Korean entertainers are in the USO lounges helping transiting servicemembers and families have a pleasant journey. The lounges have comfortable seating and provide books, games, Internet service and big-screen television. The lounges provide games, toys and coloring books to keep the children amused. The USO has done their best to keep up the morale of our servicemembers for over sixty-seven years.